At the bilateral level between the India and Australia, there was movement at the station, with many high-level visits to and fro, not the least being the two head-of-state visits: Gov Gen Peter Cosgrove to India and President Ram Nath Kovind to Australia. (NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian and Governor of Victoria Linda Dassau were other high-profile visits from Australia).
The Kovind visit – the first ever by an Indian President – is definitely the highlight of the year for Australia’s Indian community.
The release of Peter Varghese’s report on a proposed strategy for engaging with India caused much excitement at the discussion level in business and education circles, even as the mainstream press made a bit of a deal about the scaled-down manner in which it was first launched. The wisdom in the report for the scaling up of economic engagement – how urgently that will be taken up in practice, remains to be seen.
Like previous years, we saw yet another bunch of high achievers from the community in the Honours lists for Australia Day and Queen’s Birthday. Leading lights came yet again from the sciences and the medical profession. Congrats to Dr Mukesh Haikerwal AC, Dr Vanita Rajul Parekh AM, Prof Sharad Kumar AM, Prof Jai Singh AM, Prof. Ram Chander Dalal AM, and Dr Sudarshan Sachdev OAM.
In strong contrast though, next-gen kids are impressing by following their passions in creative fields rather than sticking to time-honoured choices in subjects at high school or in their career choice. They are excelling at school in the creative arts courses like music, drama and writing just as much as our kids always have in science and maths.
Is their belief in themselves stronger than previous generations so that they are able to convince their more conservative parents, or are parents now more willing to allow their kids to make their own choice? Both, perhaps. Congrats to Varun George (Bradman Cricket Scholar), Sagar Nagaraj (AWO musician) and Kiran Gupta (top-ranked HSC student in Music 1). Will these creatively-oriented kids go on to fill the Honours lists in another 20 years’ time and change the racial stereotype? Who knows!
Meanwhile, for those who campaign for increased participation in STEM, there’s no doubt our community will continue to deliver: kudos this year to 16-year-old Angelina Arora (inventor of an eco-friendly prawn shell based plastic).
Business and trade with India
Fruits are there for the taking, and Peter Varghese in his Indian Economic Strategy reminded us of this in no uncertain terms. DFAT, Australian India Council and Australia India Business Council have been working hard to give this report more oxygen with limited help from the political leaders in Canberra. Trade with India still ranks far below with China and perhaps the expected government change in Canberra (as most polls are predicting) can be a circuit breaker. AIBC needs to lead the charge and its leadership will be crucial in the next year.
Meanwhile the Australia India Youth Dialogue (AIYD) has been surprising with some gems – wonderfully bilateral, their annual conference this year in India came up with some workable ideas in areas of need, and seemed to be a rewarding experience for those engaged in helping to build relationships between people interested in the India-Oz story, itself a great outcome.
The Mela scene
This has proliferated to such an extent that – no exaggeration – there’s been a fair bit of mela-fatigue this year.
The time has come for one event commemorating India’s Independence. It doesn’t really make sense to have multiple events, celebrated in a far-off land, and also for events to go on for a fortnight.
While no doubt such a mushrooming of fair-based day-long events is good for the community as it gives them a variety to choose form – and venues that could be closer to home – for the businesses that support these events, it is getting harder to attend each, that too on successive weekends. Not to mention the politician types who have to rock up to each and think up a different speech each time. That said, the community is surely the winner here.
At Diwali for instance, you could choose from an entire gamut of events: Blacktown Mela, well before Diwali, was craft-based and therefore good for picking up bargain gifts; CIA’s event was fashioned as a street fair, and AHIA chose a classy sit-down affair. The Hindu Council of Australia’s two-day event, touted as the flagship Diwali event in Sydney, floundered this year with nothing new or exciting to offer even though PM Scott Morrison attended. FIAN’s inaugural event suffered from an identity crisis of sorts, other than being an also-ran. More fun, it seems, was had at the smaller, less formal, no-celebrity events held in pockets across the community.
Regarding Holi, the cleverer organisers have cottoned on to the most basic community need: an opportunity to actually play Holi in an open field with coloured powder, to nonstop dance and music. Classical events, politicians’ speeches, sponsors collecting plaques up on stage – who needs these when all you want to do is enjoy the celebration?!
In our other large-scale events, Parramasala continued its downward spiral even faster than last year, and Confluence all but bypassed Sydney in 2018 and went straight to Melbourne.
The big wet, and the big dry
Unprecedented floods in parts of India, and unprecedented drought in parts of Oz. As Indians, we are used to extremes. And we got on with it – the community rose to help both sections of our people. As the Keralite community organised its fundraising, the rest of us, those in the mainstream included, came out in full support.
And as farmers in NSW and Queensland struggled, a group of senior leaders from United Indian Associations (UIA) set off for a march from Sydney to Canberra, to raise awareness of the drought conditions. Though they fell well short of their ambitious target of raising over $150,000, they did raise the bar on thinking big and creating a stronger bond between the local Indian diaspora and the Australian community.
Community trends: Connecting virtually
If you’ve so far been untouched by Facebook and WhatsApp community groups, then it’s time to acknowledge you are out of touch with the times. The community associations of yore, so vital to our social lives in the early years, might be a dying institution as people choose now to associate virtually. The plethora of online groups out there serve many settlement needs, help keep in touch with events and movements ‘back home’, and often also end up entertaining with their quirky presentations. Of course the danger is ever present that these groups might actually turn the community inwards, by virtue of their exclusive nature and preventing the flow of ideas from other sources.
From India: Thumbs up to the rising trend of tours by stand-up comics from India. These events are jam-packed with 20-somethings, and old-timers who consider themselves the ‘leaders’ of the community will be baffled at an entirely new section of Indian-Australians that they did not even knew existed. The events are neatly organised, and the talent itself, highly commendable.
Thumbs down to the rising trend of ‘beauty pageants’ and contests of Mr and Mrs Whatevers (they seem frivolous and add no value to the community fabric), and to the ‘meet and greet’ type events run by small-time organisers who tie up with a B-list celebrity from Bollywood and hold a ticketed dinner (and a selfie parade) at a western suburbs restaurant.
No big-time act from India was worth writing home about: Southern star Mohanlal, eagerly awaited, fell short of expectations with that unfortunate lip-syncing allegation made by some attendees.
In this landscape, mainstream platforms may actually be serving the need better. The Sydney Film Festival brought out some cutting edge presentations (Manto, Mehsampur) as well as talent that is appreciated by a worldwide audience such as the fabulous actor-filmmaker Nandita Das. The Sydney Festival also needs to be lauded for bringing out some wonderful traditional arts such as Mallakhamb, packaged innovatively as entertainment (think also Rajasthani music by the Manganiyars; and the temple drummers of Kerala who cooked payasam on stage to beautiful choreography, for the audience to savour later).
Indeed, it was a mainstream platform that brought to our shores again this year, India’s sweetheart Aishwarya Rai Bachchan.
From within our community in Australia: We got our first-time ever Indian winner in MasterChef 2018, even though Sashi Chelliah identifies more as Singaporean. The series continues to present ongoing Indian links that make a mark in their own way, such as Loki Madireddi this year.
Cricket Australia has had a tough year and is battling declining public interest in its ventures. To the rescue has come the Indian cricket team which is providing a fascinating test series. It seems Virat Kohli has grown on the Australians – he is tough, yet fair according to the commentators of the game. It is also good to see diversity in the commentary box with the change in broadcasting rights from Channel 9 to Channel 7 and Fox sports. Former UK cricketer Isa Guha is a delight to hear as a commentator.
The Commonwealth Games proved that flashes of brilliance are coming through in other arenas of sport as well with India third on the list of medal winners. Meanwhile locally, the Australian Sikh Games is growing in stature and reach every year, with a strong community feel and strong participation.
The LGBTQI community had much to celebrate as the contentious 377 was finally abolished in India, and that too so soon after the Yes vote right here in Australia. The onus is on the wider community now to allow this marginalised section to flourish, in both lands.
Congratulations to us, for taking out the Best Publication of the Year award at the NSW Premier’s Media and Communications Awards 2018 – a fantastic way to start our silver jubilee year.